The term mediation, that is, “action on behalf of the other” (Lachs 1981,11), refers to “a nearly universal feature of human action” (Lachs 2019, vii) and defines the indirect ways in which we realize activities through our planning them, and then executing them in order to attain (or failing to) the aims along with their consequences and possible side effects. This indirectness is caused, frequently, due to the fact that we get into mediating relations “in which individuals perform actions on behalf of others” (Lachs 1995, 100). Why is such indirectness so problematic? Primarily because it alienates us from the effects and the ways we want to realize our intentions. Such alienation may have much to do with the meaning or meaninglessness of our actions, which then translates into the importance of our agency being questioned. In this way, the subjective sense of the quality of our lives, understood as profound satisfaction of what we achieve and who we are, becomes debatable. In other words, our dependence on the external conditions of life, which we scarcely control grows exponentially, and this, in turn, does a disservice in having a fixed or even predictable vision of a meaningful life. Or stated otherwise: “In a world of mediation the individual finds himself as a single link in a long chain of structured interactions” (Lachs 1981, 61), which heightens the sense of contingency even more severely. This renders us, as agents, unable to navigate and balance the negative sides of contingency and the unpredictability of actions. The planning and realization of what we do, successfully or not, depends on the intervention of others because our activities, submerged so much as they are in the cultural, economic, political, social, and technological contexts, are so dependent on them that the control we exert is minimal. If the intentions, realizations, and effects of activities that I assume as mine are mostly not mine, it is more difficult to find meaning in them and agency in myself. Due to a longer chain of intervening factors and unpredictable circumstances, many of our activities are perfunctory, superficial, fragmented, accidental, and fungible. This is very visible in the job market, for example. There are a growing number of jobs and regular, everyday occupations that are easily exchangeable by other people (or by robots and AI more and more often these days) without much difference in the quality of what is done. In this way, “We do what is expected of us, but the source of our activities does not reside in us. Though we do things, we feel that we sing someone else’s tune: countless others claim possession of our souls. As a result, we feel passive in our activities and active only when we are left alone to do what we really want” (Lachs 2019, 31). If our sense of a good and meaningful life is dependent upon the kind of job that we exercise, we should remember that fungibility, as boring routine, usually does not contribute to our sense of the meaningfulness of our activity, and thus opens us up to being more vulnerable, and this is the main reason why we talk about mediation.
John Lachs. 1981. Intermediate Man. Indianapolis-Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company
John Lachs. 1995. The Relevance of Philosophy to Life. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press
John Lachs. 2019. The Cost of Comfort. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Krzysztof (Chris) Piotr Skowroński. 2020. “Lachs’s ‘The Cost of Comfort in Light of Stoic Pragmatism” HERE